Another view of Leonard Peikoff


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Yes, it is the assertion that the religious (right) of America are moving toward a Nazi-style dictatorship that is the central claim of this book. The Nazis were the heirs of Kant claim is just the standard Objectivist position. However true, it does sound funny after you repeat it hysterically for the first hundred pages of the book. He protests too much. It is when he moves into an analysis of the current political scene that he really goes overboard. The Germans were statist altruists who happened to be nominally Christian. Hitler was happy to do away with Christianity. He did not rise up as a Christian sect, he rose up as an offshoot of the worker's party in a country that had been explicitly socialist and statist since unification and the declaration of the Reich 44 years before WWI. The Left in America is actively hostile to religion. The right accepts Pope Pius XI's proclamation that one cannot be both a good [Christian] and a good socialist. Americans have faith first, are largely skeptical of the state, and see altruism as charity, not welfare. Of course, GWB, the compassionate conservative, is the closest we have come to a big-government Christian. But I think the left's comparison of him and Hitler tells us a lot more about the Left than it does about W. Middle of the road big governmentism is more a congenital disease of the Bushes than a communicable disease of the religious right.

If you wanted to introduce Objectivism to anyone, a Holocaust survivor, a historian, a rabid secularist, would you who have read Ominous Parallels put it on the top of the list? Or even on it?

And finally, what does it say that this book is subtitled "vol. III of the Ayn Rand Library"?

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William,

If I remember correctly, Peikoff's contention was that American intellectuals of the 19th century were educated in Europe and imported Kant, Hegel & Co. to American universities. He promoted the idea of a time lag between the introduction of a philosophy through educational institutions and the manifestation of results in society.

He then traced some trends in pre-Hitler Germany and compared them against trends in post WWII America, with emphasis on the similarity of both manifestation and time lag. Along the way, he stopped to comment about this thing or that. If it was German, he usually bashed it. If it was American from the the Founding Fathers era, he praised it.

Then came the dire warnings. If people do not adopt Rand's ideas post haste, the USA will go to hell in a handbasket. I remember him ending with a quote from Franklin about having a republic if you can keep it and making a play on words with philosophy. (I just looked this last part up to make sure and it is as I remembered.)

That's a rough outline, but I think it's more or less correct.

Michael

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William: "But where are the ominous parallels? Not having read the book, I thought it argued that America is due to turn into a fascist dictatorship. Is this a fair description of the central thesis? Are there really distinct, unmistakable parallels that should cause a shiver of recognition to rise up the neck of all right-thinking people?

"I doubt it."

There are very real parallels between fascism and the direction America has ben moving in, although I don't think we are due to turn into a fascist dictatorship tomorrow. And certainly not a religious dictatorship.

Socialism is characterized by the "public" -- meaning state -- ownership of the means of production; private property is outlawed. Fascism differs from socialism in that the means of production are not nationalized, but they are controlled by government. Private property is retained in name only, and industry and commerce are completely regulated by the state. Roosevelt's National Recovery Act, modeled after Mussolini's fascism, is an unparalleled example of the trend toward ever-increasing government controls which the New Deal put into high gear and which has continued ever since. The NRA proposed to regulate prices, wages, credit, labor conditions , production and distribution. Had Roosevelt been able to do everything he tried to do, we would have long ago had fascistic state control of industry, agriculture, credit and finance. To the extent to which there are ominous parallels to dictatorship in America today, those parllels are in the direction not of socialism or communism but of fascism.

Barbara

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Ted,

Best I can recall, Peikoff didn't say we were heading for a religious right dictatorship in The Ominous Parallels. Peikoff's current obsession with the religious right seems to be more recent.

-NEIL

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I don't think Darwin and evolution are to blame for Nazi racism, but a certain understanding of these ideas probably influenced the Nazis more than Hegel, et al.

Funny you should mention Darwin/evolution in the same sentence as the Nazis. That Darwin led to Nazism is one of the bold theses of the repellently stupid "Expelled" documentary (currently not showing at a theatre near you, thanks to Pharyngula et al -- especically the NCSE).

My estimate is that "Hegel, et al." were probably more influential on the Nazis than "Darwin and evolution" but that "a certain understanding of these ideas" -- i.e., of "Darwin and evolution" -- was important, just as it was in the "eugenics" craze in this country, only more so.

Another -- and in my opinion a depth-important -- influence, mostly overlooked as best I'm aware by historians of philosophy, is that of Teutonic (and tragic and bloodthirsty) ancestral myth: Siegfried, Wotan, Götterdämmerung...powerful stuff. See, e.g., this website for some hints, such as: "Norse/Aryan archetypes and symbology were absolutely integral to the beliefs of the Nazis at the highest most command."

I'm not implying endorsement of whatever is said on that website. I found the site in a quick Google search and haven't read it. I'm merely indicating that philosophic and other intellectual influences weren't the whole of the influences. Myth goes deeper than thought. (AR's own power of effect, I believe, as I've said a number of times, comes mostly from her extraordinary skill as a weaver of mythos.)

Ellen

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William: "But where are the ominous parallels? Not having read the book, I thought it argued that America is due to turn into a fascist dictatorship. Is this a fair description of the central thesis? Are there really distinct, unmistakable parallels that should cause a shiver of recognition to rise up the neck of all right-thinking people?

"I doubt it."

There are very real parallels between fascism and the direction America has ben moving in, although I don't think we are due to turn into a fascist dictatorship tomorrow. And certainly not a religious dictatorship.

Socialism is characterized by the "public" -- meaning state -- ownership of the means of production; private property is outlawed. Fascism differs from socialism in that the means of production are not nationalized, but they are controlled by government. Private property is retained in name only, and industry and commerce are completely regulated by the state. Roosevelt's National Recovery Act, modeled after Mussolini's fascism, is an unparalleled example of the trend toward ever-increasing government controls which the New Deal put into high gear and which has continued ever since. The NRA proposed to regulate prices, wages, credit, labor conditions , production and distribution. Had Roosevelt been able to do everything he tried to do, we would have long ago had fascistic state control of industry, agriculture, credit and finance. To the extent to which there are ominous parallels to dictatorship in America today, those parllels are in the direction not of socialism or communism but of fascism.

Barbara

Ludwig von Mises wrote interestingly on this topic in ~Omnipotent Government~.

Nicholas

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Another -- and in my opinion a depth-important -- influence, mostly overlooked as best I'm aware by historians of philosophy, is that of Teutonic (and tragic and bloodthirsty) ancestral myth...I'm merely indicating that philosophic and other intellectual influences weren't the whole of the influences. Myth goes deeper than thought. (AR's own power of effect, I believe, as I've said a number of times, comes mostly from her extraordinary skill as a weaver of mythos.)

It's an often pulpy, sensationalised and unreliable field, but I found Joscelyn Goodwin's book Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival really fascinating (when I picked it up I thought it was going to be garbage), not least because it shows just how ancient and deep these mythologies are (the Polar Myth was ancient in Plato's time, and influenced him profoundly). It's true the esoterica gets a bit too much by the time you're 3/4 way through the book - it is after all esoterica...;-) - but overall it's an eye-opener.

There are two threads to be unpicked here, BTW. The mythologies here are more to do with the Nazi twist to the totalitarian model. The totalitarian model itself is, according to Popper's thesis in "The Open Society and its Enemies" also cited on this thread, a deep, multifaceted response to what he calls "the strain of civilisation"; its wellspring is the nostalgic yearning for the security of the tribe and the ancestral certainties of tribal authority. Because with individualism, knowledge and freedom comes responsibility, discomfort and uncertainty; and in times of trouble, when the latter seem to be all too doubtful virtues, the former can rise to the surface in various guises, often dressed in powerful ancestral myth.

Edited by Daniel Barnes
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I have to admit, Peikoff's writing is very clear. One can skim Ominous Parallels by reading the first sentence of each of his paragraphs, it is invariably the topic sentence.

On page 300, he says that no one can predict what form of disaster the country is moving towards, but he says the most likely is a type of Nazism.

He argues in the chapter "Convulsion and Paralysis" that the common man cannot fight effectively for freedom -"they themselves cannot change it." (286) He offers the alternatives of the relativistic nihilism of the left (which blue-collar workers like the NYC costruction workers who beat up student protesters in 1972 despise) or the racism and religious faith of the right. His fear of a right wing dictatorship may be tempered by his lesser fear of a left wing dictatorship. Both fears are present, and unless some brand of rational egoism prevails, a mixed society is unstable, and a dictatorship he argues - most likely of the Nazi type - is inevitable.

The major flaw of the book is that philosophical ideas are not monolithic and not determinative. Humans can and do espouse contradictory ideals. The bad ones do not always win out. Men have free will. "There was no one there - all they found was Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan." (286) How, then, did Peikoff judge Reagan in 1989? By that time I had stopped reading the Objectivist Forum, so the question, for me, is not just rhetorical. The question raised is "What went right?"

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> philosophical ideas are not monolithic and not determinative. Humans can and do espouse contradictory ideals. The bad ones do not always win out. Men have free will.

Ted, I agree with you. And so far (in my second time thru OP after many decades...I'm at the end of chapter 7) here is what Peikoff says (after affirming free will in the excerpt I quoted earlier in this thread):

[p. 160, he's just spent a chapter on the early post-WWI Weimar years -->]

"Wherever the German turned--to the left, to the right, to the center; to the decorous voices in Parliament or to the gutters running with blood--he heard the same *fundamental* ideas. They were the same in politics, the same in ethics, the same in epistemology.

"This is how philosophy shapes the destiny of nations. If there is no dissent in regard to basic principles among a country's leading philosophic minds, theirs are the principles that come in time to govern every social and political group. Owing to other factors, the groups may proliferate and contend fiercely over variants, applications, strategy; but they do not contend over essentials. In such a case, the country is offered an abundance of choices--among equivalents competing to push it to the same final outcome."

......

Several points:

1. I would amend "leading philosophic minds" to "voices - educators, journalists, professors..." And pretty much -all- the intellectuals that one is in contact with or taught by.

COATES THEORY OF HISTORICAL "VOLITION" (points 2 and 3 below):

2. The problem is that having free will is not the same thing as having unlimited capacity and time and intent to think through any mistake. Free will does not give one the capacity of original genius, to take an extreme. Strong, clear, thorough thinking is not as widespread to put it mildly. If every voice from one's grade school teachers on up argues for, provides evidence for collectivism or environmentalism, there are very few who will possess the "free will" to seek out and construct an entirely contrary view and be able to defend it in their own minds or in public against centuries or decades of arguments and 'evidence' for the other side. After all, doesn't everyone know that the robber barons dominated under laissez-faire and that the oceans are dying?

3. Looking over history we certainly seem to see a certain "determinism" in the shaping of the destiny of nations. We seldom or never see them suddenly make a U-Turn and deny all the intellectual, traditional, philosophical ideas that they had been steeped in.

So does that contradict free will?

No, because this 'historical determinism' is missnamed. It is -not- determinism in the philosophical sense. There will be individuals who reject all their "conditioning". But the problem is that the direction of a culture is determined (especially in a free country with the right to vote) by the sum total of the ideas of those who make a choice about it. And many of them are simply followers:

Each one possesses "free will" in regard to originating or thinking for themselves about collectivism, altruism, environmentalism, the mixed economy. But if the majority are -followers- who do not exercise that (arduous!) choice, or do not have the knowledge or power of intellect, it as if the culture were historically determined.

It -is- in that sense determined by the *sum* of all those choices. Or failures to choose, or to engage the brain, etc.

4. Having said the above, here is where I suspect by the end of the book that I will disagree with Peikoff. Weimar is -not- America. What he describes, the intellectual uniformity, is different in today's United States. Education: While the progressive dominated education in the past, there are lots of alternatives today. There are colleges which do not kowtow to the intellectual elites and their orthodoxies. Politics and Economics: Everyone has heard of libertarianism, and knows there is a vehement and principled opposition to welfare statism and political collectivism.

On the other hand, the situation is not as positive in regard to more fundamental ideas - ethics, epistemology, metaphysics. And I agree with Peikoff that over time, the "big dogs" rule.

Of course, Peikoff would then answer back "Phil Coates, you nitwit, learn to think in principle! We're only at an earlier stage but going in the same direction."

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Roger's post #19 is very thorough, putting to rest some of the issues relating to the "stolen concept" fallacy.

It's a good example for "lazy posters" and "shoot from the hippers" and "dismissive one liner people" [ and I'm naming no names! :-) ] of the best, most convincing way to discuss some of these issues of attribution and formulation with precision -- e.g., "who said what first and what did he mean by it?" -- using exact and full quotes of longer than an out of context or disconnected phrase or two. Or a sweeping summary without appropriate evidence.

The paragraph-length or longer quotes - from the Journals and from Galt's speech - are especially valuable with someone like Rand who, the more she describes and explains, the clearer it gets.

And, in this case, there are nuggets of great value on other issues in the three Rand quotes.

This is the reason why I've been giving actual quotes of usually a paragraph length from Peikoff's "Ominous Parallels" in this thread so that people who never read it but heard it, never did either, or may have a different view when approaching it from the perspective of later years can see what is actually in the book. And what some of the excellent insights and analyses are that Peikoff has to offer there.

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'There are no absolutes,' they chatter, blanking out the fact that they are uttering an absolute

While this may be called a 'stolen concept' by Rand, it is also what Russell referred to as an 'illegitimate totality'. By restricting the statement to 'there are no absolutes except this one' it become legitimate.

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GS,

The statement is an exception to itself, thus logically it is a contradiction. Either the statement is false or the exception is. In a stolen concept statement, both all-inclusive condition and exception are presented as true and the contradiction is ignored.

The concept is based on (presumes) something it denies.

That's a stolen concept.

Michael

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I'm not sure what you mean Micheal, so I will reiterate. The statement 'all absolutes are false' is itself an absolute and so is illegitimate, leads to a vicious-circle, stolen concept, whatever. The statement 'all absolutes are false, excluding this one' is not an absolute because of the exception and so has the possibility of being not false and does not lead to a vicious-circle.

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GS,

Not 2 exceptions?

Is 1 exception absolute? That specific one? Why?

I see nothing in reality to justify this kind of standard. It is a purely whim-based standard. ("I want it that way for no other reason than I want it that way. It doesn't have to make sense.")

Calling it subjective is one thing. Trying to pretend it applies to reality and is logically consistent is a stolen concept.

Michael

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There is only one absolute, and this is it. B)

I still maintain that uttering an illegitimate totality seems to be an example of "stealing a concept"

Edited by general semanticist
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A rubber ball is subject to physical law. That doesn't mean that we deny that balls roll because molecules of rubber do not roll. The ball has emergent features that depend on its form, not its substance. A ball can be made of copper, frozen H20, or tinker toys and still roll. But the material natures of these media are of no importance except that they allow the creation of round, solid forms. No molecule, as a molecule, can be round (excpeting Buckyballs) or solid. We don't say that treating a ball as if it can roll (unless it is made of Buckyballs) is invalid. Rolling, like choice, is non-reducible. Mechanical laws cannot be reduced to atomic laws. Humans, the most complex entities of which we are aware, have emergent properties on many levels above the simple mechanical level. Dawkins is making a mistake that even the Sophists knew was a mistake.

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Emergent properties are not in contradiction with reductionism. Mechanical laws can in principle be reduced to atomic laws, just as a complex computer program can be reduced to elementary instructions. Now this is often not a very practical method (it would be what Dennett called greedy reductionism), but that doesn't invalidate the principle of reductionism.

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From Wiki on emergence:

"the debate about whether or not the whole can be predicted from the properties of the parts misses the point. Wholes produce unique combined effects, but many of these effects may be co-determined by the context and the interactions between the whole and its environment(s)." (Corning 2002) Along that same thought, Arthur Koestler stated, "it is the synergistic effects produced by wholes that are the very cause of the evolution of complexity in nature" and used the metaphor of Janus to illustrate how the two perspectives (strong or holistic vs. weak or reductionistic) should be treated as perspectives, not exclusives, and should work together to address the issues of emergence.(Koestler 1969) Further,

"The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe..The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. At each level of complexity entirely new properties appear. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry. We can now see that the whole becomes not merely more, but very different from the sum of its parts."(
Anderson 1972
)

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Ted,

Holon does not have to be a complete entity. It is usually a whole within an entity.

A kidney is a good example. You can transplant a kidney from one whole entity to another (a human being). If you reduce a kidney to its parts, it doesn't work—neither as the original kidney nor as a transplant. It needs to be a total subwhole (a holon). It has to do more than cell stuff. It has to do kidney stuff.

(In fact, cells are holons.)

Michael

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One day I might address the psychological need for oversimplification that results in denying one or the other. :)

Michael,

Right now I'm reading Jung's Modern Man in Search of a Soul. To some degree he addresses this in chapter five: The Stages of Life:

When we must deal with problems, we instinctively refuse to try the way that leads through darkness and obscurity. We wish to hear only of unequivocal results, and completely forget that these results can only be brought about when we have ventured into and emerged again from the darkness. But to penetrate the darkness we must summon all the powers of enlightenment that consciousness can offer; as I have already said, we must even indulge in speculations.

[...]

...the state induced by a problem-- the state of being at variance with oneself-- arises when, side by side with the series of ego contents, a second series of equal intensity comes into being. This second series, because of its energy value, has a functional significance equal to that of the ego complex; we might call it another, second ego which in a given case can wrest the leadership from the first.

[...]

If we try to extract the common and essential factors from the almost inexhaustible variety of individual problems found in the period of youth [approximately puberty to forty], we meet in nearly all cases with a particular feature: a more or less patent clinging to the childhood level of consciousness-- a rebellion against the fateful forces in and around us which tend to involve us in the world. Something in us wishes to remain a child; to be unconscious, or, at most, conscious only of the ego; to reject everything foreign, or at least subject it to our will; to do nothing, or in any case indulge our own craving for pleasure or power. In this leaning we observe something like the inertia of matter; it is persistent in a hitherto existing state whose level of consciousness is smaller, narrower and more egoistic than that of the dualistic stage. For in the latter the individual finds himself compelled to recognize and to accept what is different and strange as a part of his own life--as a kind of "also-I."

It is the extension of the horizon of life which is the essential feature of the dualistic stage-- and to which resistance is offered.

[...]

Whoever protects himself against what is new and strange and thereby regresses to the past, falls into the same neurotic condition as the man who identifies himself with the new and runs away from the past. The only difference is that the one has estranged himself from the past, and the other from the future. In principle both are doing the same thing; they are salvaging a narrow sense of consciousness. The alternative is to shatter it with the tension inherent in the play of opposites-- in the dualistic stage-- and thereby build up a state of wider and higher consciousness.

I should mention that Jung has a specific definition of ego that may not coincide with Rand's and may be more enlightened.

The "problems" he speaks of can be the result of an individual viewing things through different psychological or philosophical lenses himself, or the individual experiencing alternative views presented in a social context. Either way the "oversimplification that results in denying one or the other" is a form of ego-defense. This would be an ego that hasn't reached the dualistic stage (dialectic stage?) where competing or paradoxical views can be held, suspended in consciousness, and understood as the result of seeing the world through different lenses. My own thinking suggests the next stage would be the stage that seeks integration or synthesis through creative and emergent modeling. Synthesis can be created by "speculating" a higher or emergent order that unites the apparent dualisms. (No, I'm not talking about anything supernatural! I'm referring to models of physical existence in complex systems.) This is, I believe, how Branden was thinking about the mind-body problem when he suggested, " If they have a common source, then they do have a point of commonality that makes their ability to interact less puzzling." (see here)

Paul

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